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CDC will release data supporting its mask guidance today

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will release a study Friday that supports this week’s decision to change mask guidance.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday the agency was changing guidelines for fully vaccinated people because of new science.

She said even fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas where transmission of the virus is substantial or high.

Walensky said new data indicated that people who get breakthrough infections involving the Delta variant of the virus can be as likely to infect someone else as unvaccinated people are. And she promised that data would be released soon. 

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CDC document warns Delta variant appears to spread as easily as chicken pox and cause more severe infection


Washington
CNN
—  

The Delta coronavirus variant surging across the United States appears to cause more severe illness and spread as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal document from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The document – a slide presentation – outlines unpublished data that shows fully vaccinated people might spread the Delta variant at the same rate as unvaccinated people.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky confirmed the authenticity of the document, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

“I think people need to understand that we’re not crying wolf here. This is serious,” she told CNN.

“It’s one of the most transmissible viruses we know about. Measles, chickenpox, this – they’re all up there.”

The CDC is scheduled to publish data Friday that will back Walensky’s controversial decision to change guidance for fully vaccinated people. She said Tuesday the CDC was recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in places where transmission of the virus is sustained or high.

And she said everyone in schools – students, staff and visitors – should wear masks at all times.

“The measures we need to get this under control – they’re extreme. The measures you need are extreme,” Walensky told CNN.

She said the data in the report did not surprise her. “It was the synthesis of the data all in one place that was sobering,” she said.

The CDC presentation says the Delta variant is about as transmissible as chickenpox, with each infected person, on average, infecting eight or nine others. The original lineage was about as transmissible as the common cold, with each infected person passing the virus to about two other people on average.

That infectivity is known as R0.

“When you think about diseases that have an R0 of eight or nine – there aren’t that many,” Walensky told CNN.

And if vaccinated people get infected anyway, they have as much virus in their bodies as unvaccinated people. That means they’re as likely to infect someone else as unvaccinated people who get infected.

“The bottom line was that, in contrast to the other variants, vaccinated people, even if they didn’t get sick, got infected and shed virus at similar levels as unvaccinated people who got infected,” Dr. Walter Orenstein, who heads the Emory Vaccine Center and who viewed the documents, told CNN.

But vaccinated people are safer, the document indicates.

“Vaccines prevent more than 90% of severe disease, but may be less effective at preventing infection or transmission,” it reads. “Therefore, more breakthrough and more community spread despite vaccination.”

It says vaccines reduce the risk of severe disease or death 10-fold and reduce the risk of infection three-fold.

The presentation also cites three reports that indicate the Delta variant – originally known as B.1.617.2 – might cause more severe disease.

The CDC, the document advises, should “acknowledge the war has changed.” It recommends vaccine mandates and universal mask requirements.

The virus is once against surging across the US – especially in areas where fewer people are vaccinated.

The US averaged more than 66,900 new daily cases over the last week – an average that’s generally risen since the country hit a 2021 low of 11,299 daily cases on June 22, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“The number of cases we have now is higher than any number we had on any given day last summer,” Walensky told CNN.

As of Wednesday, cases have risen in all but one state in the past seven days compared with the week before, according to Johns Hopkins.

“The one thing I will say is I’ve been heartened in the past couple of days to see more people taking action in response to the fact that it’s bad – more organizations, businesses, states, localities taking the action that’s needed to get us out of this,” Walensky said.

The CDC document walks through new “communication challenges” as a result of breakthrough infections, along with the need to retool public health messaging to highlight vaccination as the best defense against the Delta variant.

The agency should “improve (the) public’s understanding of breakthrough infections” and “improve communications around individual risk among vaccinated,” it says.

Earlier Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a number of new steps his administration will take to try to get more Americans vaccinated, including requiring that all federal employees must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols.

“This is an American tragedy. People are dying – and will die – who don’t have to die. If you’re out there unvaccinated, you don’t have to die,” Biden said during remarks at the White House. “Read the news. You’ll see stories of unvaccinated patients in hospitals, as they’re lying in bed dying from Covid-19, they’re asking, ‘Doc, can I get the vaccine?’ The doctors have to say, ‘Sorry, it’s too late.’ “

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s John Bonifield contributed to this report.

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ER Doctor: ‘What a senseless, self-inflicted wound’ (Opinion)

In the early stages of the pandemic, my sickest patients were almost exclusively older people with chronic health problems. But after the vaccine rollout and the giddy days of “reopening” — followed by the arrival of the more contagious Delta variant — all that changed.

Now the patients I see, frightened and struggling to breathe, are mostly in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They come from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of them have no identifiable risk factors. The one thing many of them have in common: They are all unvaccinated.

The more than 40% of Americans who remain unvaccinated now account for 97% of all Covid-19 hospitalizations and 99.2% of deaths. Hundreds of Americans are dying every day from a vaccine-preventable illness.

Half of America has rolled up its sleeve and done its part so we can all move on from this. My colleagues and I have been working tirelessly for over a year to end this pandemic. But here we are, staring down the barrel of yet another wave of death. What a senseless, self-inflicted wound.

One patient I cared for, an unvaccinated man in his late 30s, was only a few days into his illness and was already severely short of breath and requiring oxygen. Neither his clinical appearance nor his chest X-ray was particularly encouraging. I told him that there was a good chance he would get worse and that he would need to be admitted to the hospital. He asked me if I could give him the vaccine before he got worse, seemingly unaware that it does not treat the disease or cure you once you become infected.

Many of my patients exhibit stunning levels of ignorance when it comes to this disease and the vaccine, which, it’s worth noting, has so far saved an estimated 275,000 lives and prevented over a million hospitalizations in the US alone, according to research from Yale University and the Commonwealth Fund.
Healthcare workers tend to a patient with Covid-19 who is having difficulty breathing in a Covid holding pod at Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, California.
The list of debunked myths and misinformation I hear — presented to me as fact — grows longer by the day. No wonder the US Surgeon General has called Covid-19 misinformation an “urgent threat” to public health.
I hear often from patients that the vaccine development was “rushed” or that it hasn’t been “studied enough” despite the fact that the Covid-19 vaccine was assessed for safety in tens of thousands of patients — far more than widely-used drugs like Viagra were. More than 3.8 billion doses have been administered worldwide, over 340 million of them right here in the US.
Many of these same patients, unwilling to be what they term as vaccine “guinea pigs,” end up hospitalized, deeply regretting their decision. Ironically, pretty much every therapy that hospitals have used to treat Covid-19 — like dexamethasone, remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, and monoclonal antibodies like tocilizumab, sotrovimab, bamlanivimab — has far less data behind it than the vaccine does.
Another young man in his 20s with no pre-existing medical conditions was admitted to a Florida hospital in the spring after catching Covid-19 at a concert. He quickly ended up on a ventilator. Though I was not involved in his care, the story has been widely reported by CNN and others. He spent several months in the intensive care unit and ended up on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a last-ditch therapy that uses a machine to oxygenate your blood outside of the body. He ultimately underwent a double lung transplant and is expected to recover.

Many young women tell me they are concerned about infertility or miscarriage, despite there being zero scientific evidence to support such fears. In fact, there is now a large body of evidence that vaccination is safe before and during pregnancy, and it’s recommended by both the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The risk to mom and baby posed by Covid-19 is real and cannot be overstated. Pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of severe illness, respiratory failure requiring intubation and death from Covid-19. Pregnant women are also more likely to go into premature labor, and their baby is more likely to require admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.

I will never forget some of the pregnant women I have seen with this disease. Early on in the rollout, one young woman I cared for, so young she did not yet qualify for the vaccine, presented severe respiratory failure, and she underwent an emergency Caesarean section to save her baby. In the ICU, she developed multi-organ failure and spent weeks in critical condition. Her child will never truly understand how close he came to growing up without a mom.

It sounds strange to say this, but the patients I’ve just described are some of the lucky ones. We still do not understand why this virus causes mild symptoms in some people but severe organ failure and death in others. I have seen bedbound nursing home patients get asymptomatic infections and teenagers end up on ventilators, and I have read numerous case reports of young athletes in peak physical condition who die from this. I cannot urge people strongly enough not to mistake their youth or good health for invincibility.

When it was first reported that an American contracted this disease in January 2020, we knew virtually nothing about the virus and even less about how best to treat it. By December, the Food and Drug Administration had given emergency use authorization to two vaccines with over 90% efficacy against Covid-19. A generation ago, there’s no telling how many years that would have taken.

In the beginning, ending up on a ventilator was basically a death sentence. Now, if you become that sick, there’s a decent chance we can save your life. The one thing we haven’t figured out yet is how to convince someone to save their own.

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Israel to offer third Covid-19 vaccine dose to people over 60

People over 60 will need to show they received their second dose of the vaccine at least five months ago.

Thursday’s announcement follows a strong recommendation from the government-appointed team of experts on the pandemic to offer older adults a third dose. The experts’ advice, which came overnight on Wednesday, was based on data suggesting significant waning immunity from infection over time.

Some of the data considered by the health ministry comes from research on the “justification, safety and efficacy” of a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for hemodialysis patients that was posted as a pre-print paper earlier this month.

The research found that about two-thirds of hemodialysis patients (people who require the procedure to remove waste products and excess fluid from the blood when the kidneys stop working properly) who had a suboptimal immune response after a second dose of the vaccine developed “optimal” antibodies and T cells after a third dose.

From Tuesday to Thursday, the number of new cases in Israel has topped two thousand each day — levels that have not been seen in the country for four and half months. Back in May and June, the number of new daily cases was down to single figures on some days.

The number of severe cases currently stands at 151, with the R rate — the average number of people infected by someone with the virus — fairly steady for weeks, at 1.3 and 1.4.

Israel’s highly successful vaccination program first began in December, with then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the first to receive a dose on live television.

The country’s vaccination program has won plaudits for its fast rate of making the vaccine available to the entire adult population, and more recently children aged 12 and over.

Data from Israel might help inform other countries’ decisions to offer a booster shot, including the United States.

On Thursday, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN that it’s “very possible” that a decision on boosters will be made by the end of summer or early fall. “It could take a bit longer. It could come sooner,” Murthy added, saying that “it depends how quickly we see a signal in the data in these cohorts of individuals we’re following.”

Murthy said data from other countries, including Israel and the US will factor into the decision.

CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas contributed reporting.

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Afghans who risked lives to help American troops set to arrive in US

Biden administration officials said Thursday that the first group of approved Afghan applicants for a Special Immigrant Visa will touch down and travel to Fort Lee, Virginia, on Friday. The flight carries about 200 people, including applicants and their families, part of a priority group of 700 Afghan SIV applicants who have completed the majority of the background process required to get a visa. Along with their families, they number about 2,500.

“I am immensely proud to announce our first group of Afghan special immigrants to be relocated under Operation Allies Refuge is now on their way to America,” said Russ Travers, the deputy homeland security advisor on the National Security Council. “This flight represents the fulfillment of the US commitment and honors these Afghans brave service in helping support our mission Afghanistan, in turn, helping to keep our country safe.”

The Afghans on that flight are the lucky ones. They represent a sliver of the estimated 20,000 SIV applicants in line, some of whom told CNN they are deeply afraid as they watch the Taliban’s bloody executions and reprisals against those who helped US troops.

“We need to get out of the country, they are looking after us,” Naveed Mustafa, an interpreter who worked with US and UK forces, told CNN. He has been scrambling to assemble the documents he needs to get himself, his wife, and five children out of the country as they watch the Taliban take control of Afghanistan’s borders and seek out Afghan special forces, army soldiers and police, “knocking the doors and taking them out and killing them.”

Naveed has colleagues from Special Forces “like, five or six [who] have been killed.” Asked if he is living in fear, he says, “completely.”

The fear of Taliban reprisal is being felt deeply across Afghanistan as the nearly two-decade US military campaign in the country draws to a close, leaving thousands like Naveed in a bind. The process of applying for the SIV program to be able to come to the United States can take years. And despite the Biden administration’s announcement in July that it was launching Operation Allies Refuge, questions remain about whether the US government will be able to relocate SIV applicants quickly enough.

Of the 20,000 people in the SIV pipeline, about 10,000 have only just begun the process, the State Department said in recent weeks.

US officials have said they are looking to relocate some applicants to US military bases, like Fort Lee, and even to third countries so they can complete the application and clearance process in relative safety. However, applicants who are selected to take advantage of the US evacuation flights will have to get themselves to Kabul, despite the dangers such a journey could present as the Taliban has set up checkpoints across the country.

That danger is increasing. After US troops left Bagram Air Base in early July, and with the closure of other bases, Afghans who were employed by the US government on those bases “left their jobs and they left their protection,” said Janis Shinwari, a former interpreter and founder of the group “No One Left Behind,” which assists SIV recipients like himself with resettling in the US.

The Taliban recently came looking for Ramish, another interpreter who spoke to CNN. His family hid him. After the Taliban’s searched fruitlessly, they burned down Ramish’s house. The interpreter escaped his hometown and traveled in the middle of the night to Kabul, where he is trying to get through the SIV process. If he can’t get out, he said, “our future will be dark.”

Referring to reports that the Taliban is beheading Afghans who worked with US troops, Ramish adds, “they’re going to cut our heads too.”

Lawmakers have united with nonprofit groups to urge the Biden administration to do more, and do it more quickly, for the Afghans who served alongside US soldiers and diplomats. Congress has come together in rare bipartisan fashion on legislation to streamline the visa process for SIV applicants and increase the number of visas available — an initiative administration officials welcome.

“We’ve had exponentially more Afghanis who worked with US Forces than the State Department even has visas for, and the State Department is so backed up right now they can’t even speed it up,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran on the Armed Services Committee, told MSNBC on Thursday. “They’re looking at a two- to four-year backlog.”

‘A bull’s-eye’

Referring to the interpreters and translators, Duckworth added that, “they have bull’s-eyes on their back, as well as their family members, and we need to get them out of harm’s way.”

As lawmakers and government officials work to get SIV applicants to safety in the US or a third country, nonprofit groups and individuals have also taken it upon themselves to help.

Army Capt. Sayre Paine worked with Ramish, whose house was torched, and encouraged him to flee to Kabul.

“To me, it’s the comrade-in-arms and an indelible duty to not betray them,” Paine told CNN. “You put these people on a tier with your own family.”

Paine says US troops could not have done the job on the ground without the interpreters by their side. He feels angry thinking about the ones who may not make it out of the country. “All of these people signing up for this promise to come, literally, to the promised land and to just let it go, is a betrayal to those people,” he said.

US intel assessments on Afghanistan warn of 'accelerating pace' of Taliban hold on country

Shinwari, the founder of “No One Left Behind,” told CNN that since Biden announced in April that the US would pull virtually all military forces from Afghanistan, “everyday, hundreds and hundreds of people (are) texting me on my Facebook, they’re calling me and they’re sending me emails for the help because they are right now in a very bad situation.”

But even leaving Afghanistan does not necessarily mean a family is free from the threat of Taliban reprisal, Shinwari told CNN as he waited at Dulles International Airport to welcome another SIV family to America. “No One Left Behind” helped relocate the family to the US with the help of a grant it used to pay for their airfare.

“For most of SIVs who are here, because they still have their immediate family back in Afghanistan, their brothers, sisters, their parents and their other relatives, if the Taliban or the al Qaeda finds out that one member of the family was involved in assisting US military in Afghanistan, they’re going to kill the entire family,” Shinwari said. “If they can’t catch the exact person, if they find out that person is here in the United States, they will go after their family. They will kill anybody in the family for the revenge.

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The couple who met on the beach at Boracay

(CNN) — It was October 2012 and Mae Edilyn Lumba Fortuna had temporarily left behind her busy life in Manila to vacation on the Filipino island of Boracay.

With her friend Ivy in tow, Fortuna spent her evenings out dancing and her days lazing on Boracay’s spectacular White Beach.

This particular morning, Ivy didn’t feel like swimming, but Fortuna couldn’t resist the expanse of glass-like sea stretching out in front of her.

“There’s no wave, it’s very still, very blue,” Fortuna tells CNN Travel today.

After cooling off in the water, Fortuna made her way back onto the sand — “Halle Berry-style, from James Bond,” as she puts it — and saw that Ivy was chatting with a mysterious guy.

As Mae approached, this man introduced himself. He was Jon Takagi, an American physical therapist from Seattle on his first trip to the Philippines.

While on vacation in Boracay, Mae Edilyn Lumba Fortuna, left, and her friend right, left, met American traveler Jon Takagi.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

“Ivy is very gregarious, she started talking to me,” Takagi recalls.

Part of the reason Takagi had chosen Boracay as a travel destination was its sociable vibe — he was vacationing alone, so he was keen to meet fellow travelers.

These two women seemed friendly and fun, so when Ivy asked if he wanted to join them on a sunset boat trip that evening, Takagi said yes.

That evening, as the sky blazed scarlet above them, Fortuna, Takagi and Ivy chatted about their lives and travels.

Mae-and-Jon-Takagi-Boracay-2012 (1)

On the day they met, Fortuna and Takagi enjoyed a sunset sail around Boracay.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

Afterwards, the group headed out dancing together. It was a blast, and although Fortuna and Ivy were flying back to Manila the following day, they exchanged contact details with Takagi, promising to stay in touch on Facebook.

Ivy wasn’t interested in Takagi romantically, Fortuna explains — her friend was just chatty, and loved to meet new people.

As for Fortuna, she’d really enjoyed hanging out with Takagi, and she thought he was attractive.

“He had abs,” she says now, laughing. “So we’re like, ‘Oh, he’s hot.'”

Still, romance hadn’t really crossed her mind, she just figured he was a fun person to meet.

As for Takagi, he’d been intrigued by Fortuna since he first saw her walking up the sandy beach.

“Everybody wants to say, ‘it was love at first sight.’ I don’t think it was love at first sight. It was interest right away,” he tells CNN Travel today.

Takagi hoped to return to see more of the Philippines, and maybe cross paths with Fortuna again.

A second meeting

Over the next few months, Takagi and Fortuna kept in contact via Facebook.

Fortuna kept expecting the messages to drop off, but she always enjoyed hearing from the American she’d met on the beach.

“I asked Ivy, ‘Why is this guy still communicating with us?’ And then she was like, ‘Oh, just keep on talking to him. Who knows, maybe we’ll go to Seattle, and we’ll have a friend there,'” Fortuna recalls.

Around six months later, in March 2013, Takagi returned to the Philippines. He headed first to the island of Coron, part of the stunning Calamian Islands located southwest of Manila, where he’d arranged to reunite with Fortuna and Ivy, and then back to Boracay.

Fortuna was excited, but she could only join for the first part of the trip — her family is Catholic, and Takagi’s vacation coincided with Holy Week.

Mae-and-Jon-Chance-Encounters

Takagi, Fortuna and Ivy enjoyed a memorable trip to Coron in 2013.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

The trio had a great time reuniting against the backdrop of Coron’s tropical splendor, enjoying walks on the beach, swimming and snorkeling.

One evening the group went island hopping, splitting the cost of a boat with two American travelers.

It was towards the end of this day that things shifted between Fortuna and Takagi, and she got the first inkling that something else was bubbling under the surface of their friendly interactions.

“One of the guys was hovering over me,” recalls Fortuna.

Takagi stepped in and put his arm around her. They sat like that for some time, under the warm glow of the moon.

Mae was surprised — but happy — about this turn of events.

Back on shore, the group went out to a bar. Fortuna and Takagi danced together, and kissed for the first time.

Mae-and-Jon-Palawan-Philippines

While island hopping around Coron, Takagi put his arm around Fortuna, and she got the first inkling of something romantic between them.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

Ivy was delighted for her friends — and happy to go off on her own adventures — so Fortuna and Takagi explored Coron together.

The two enjoyed long beach walks, chatting about their shared passion for travel. Takagi had spent several months on sabbatical in Thailand not long before, while Fortuna had traveled the world as a flight attendant for five years, as well as worked a stint with Holland America cruise line.

When she met Takagi, Fortuna was a professor of Travel Management, Cultural Tourism and Ecotourism at the University of Santo Tomas.

They both shared a love of dancing, and they were both foodies, with Takagi keen to try Filipino delicacies for the first time. There was a bit of an age difference — Fortuna was in her late 20s and Takagi was in his 40s — but they were on the same page in many ways.

The two bonded over a mutual passion for social issues and a shared drive to help others.

“She’s very kind of forward thinking […] being a teacher and wanting to help people,” Takagi says.

“One of the things that attracted me to her is that she would think about others, and would think about some bigger things.”

Easter weekend was fast approaching, and Fortuna had to say goodbye to Takagi and Ivy, and head home.

But back in her mother’s house in Manila, Fortuna kept thinking about Takagi.

“We’re supposed to pray and I’m supposed to be with my mom. But I sneaked out,” she says.

Fortuna booked the last flight to Boracay. She didn’t tell Takagi she was coming, instead surprising him by unexpectedly knocking on his hotel room door several hours later.

“That’s when I knew,” says Takagi. “That’s when the relationship started.”

Long-distance

Over the next few months. Takagi and Fortuna embarked on a long-distance relationship, keeping in touch via email and Skype.

“We’d watch The Walking Dead together, but via Skype, and we’d be like ‘On the count of three, press play’,” says Fortuna.

“We made it work, and then the biggest thing was we continually had plans,” says Takagi.

On one occasion the two traveled to the Filipino island of Bohol, home to the Chocolate Hills, and then to Oslob, to swim with whale sharks.

Towards the end of 2013, Takagi and Fortuna visited El Nido, on Palawan, known for its incredible white sandy beaches.

As time went on, their relationship became more serious. On visits to the Philippines, Takagi met Fortuna’s family, while Fortuna met Jon’s loved ones via Skype.

The two started making plans for Fortuna to come and stay with Jon in the US in the spring of 2014.

The trip wasn’t necessarily a permanent move, but the couple wanted to see how Fortuna liked the US, and whether she could imagine a life for herself there with Takagi. Fortuna had a US tourist visa from her time as a flight attendant, so she could stay for a little while.

As Takagi points out, because they’d traveled a lot with one another, they’d spent a lot of time essentially living together in hotels.

But this wasn’t a vacation, so it still felt a bit different, especially as Takagi was working during the week, and Fortuna wasn’t.

She passed the time in his apartment, feeling a bit listless.

“It’s like my life was paused,” she says now.

But when the couple mutually decided the move should be permanent, and Fortuna applied for an immigrant visa, she was able to start working, and started to feel more settled in the US. It helped that she’d brought her beloved dog Heidi along with her.

Married life

Mae-and-Jon-Chance-Encounters-wedding

Fortuna and Takagi celebrated their wedding in the US and in Manila, pictured here.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

Takagi had long intended to ask Fortuna to marry him, but Fortuna wasn’t into the idea of waiting for him to get around to asking.

“I asked Jon point blank if he is going to marry me or not because I have a life in Manila and a teaching job waiting for me at the University,” says Fortuna.

The couple were married in September 2014, a small civil wedding at a courthouse in Seattle.

A few years later, they enjoyed a big church celebration in Manila.

Moving to the US and leaving her loved ones in the Philippines wasn’t easy, says Fortuna.

But she says her family love Takagi, and supported the decision — luckily, Fortuna’s mom had long forgiven him for being the reason her daughter had abandoned the family that Easter.

Plus, Fortuna and Takagi continued to travel extensively, whether it was returning to the Philippines to see Fortuna’s family and go scuba diving — they’re both now PADI certified — or exploring the US, from the beaches of Maui to hiking the Grand Canyon.

Mae-and-Jon-Grand-Canyon

Fortuna and Takagi at the Grand Canyon.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

They also visited Minidoka, Idaho, where Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War.

Takagi is Japanese American, and Fortuna was shocked and heartbroken to learn about this aspect of US history.

Today, Fortuna draws a comparison to the racist attacks against Asian Americans that have taken place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With the current racism and violence against Asian Americans I hope that when people read our story they will realize that we are just like everyone else,” says Fortuna.

“We’re entitled to the American pursuit of happiness too, like everyone, regardless of color or race.”

Family unit

Mae-and-Jon-Chance-Encounters2

Takagi and Fortuna on a recent wine tasting trip with their son Joseph, and their dog Heidi.

Courtesy Mae and Jon Takagi

For Fortuna and Takagi, it’s also important to build a better world for their child — in November 2020, their son Joseph was born.

It was a journey to get there in more ways than one.

Joseph was conceived via IVF. And when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Seattle, Fortuna was pregnant and Takagi was working at a hospital.

It was an intense time, and the couple also found it tough not being able to see Fortuna’s family in the Philippines.

But the past few months have also been filled with joy, as Fortuna and Takagi welcomed Joseph into the world and started building out their life as a family of three.

The couple are planning to fly out to the Philippines in January 2022, to enjoy a long-delayed family reunion. Their long-term plan is to retire there.

For now, they’re staying put, but they’re excited to instill their love of adventure in Joseph.

After all, a thirst for travel is what brought them together in the first place.

“You open yourself up to meeting people,” says Takagi. “I think it was meant to be.”

“How many people get to meet their spouse on the beach?” says Fortuna. “Looking back, our story is amazing.”

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US coronavirus: If we want kids back in school and the economy to prosper, more of the US needs to get vaccinated, expert says

“If we want to keep our kids in school, if we want to protect the economy, if we want our country to get through this pandemic, we have to leave no stone unturned in making sure people get vaccinated,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
In the face of new cases surging in 48 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, President Joe Biden announced Thursday that all federal employees, except for the military, must attest to being vaccinated against Covid-19 or face strict protocols including testing once or twice a week, masking and other mitigation measures.

The data already shows the difference between areas with high and low vaccination rates.

Average hospitalization rates are nearly three times higher in states that have fully vaccinated less than half of their residents compared with those that have vaccinated more than half of their residents, according to a CNN analysis of federal data. And Covid-19 case and death rates over the past week are more than twice as high among states that have vaccinated less than half of their residents, on average.

With only 49.4% of Americans fully vaccinated, former US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said Thursday that he anticipates more closures as the Delta variant keeps spreading. And with some mask and vaccine mandates already implemented, Murthy anticipates more will be added.

“The private sector is already stepping up to create verification systems,” Murthy said. “What we are going to see more and more, Anderson, in the weeks and months ahead is, I believe, we’re going to see more universities, more hospitals, more businesses, more retail establishments looking to put rules in place to require people to get vaccinated.”

Those kind of mandates can make a difference in motivating Americans to get vaccinated, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said Thursday. Jha said other measures will help the US manage transmission in the short term, but vaccine mandates will be part of the long-term solution.

“I wish we’d done these mandates a month earlier,” Jha added. “They would have made a bigger difference, but even doing it now will help.”

The enemy is the Delta variant, governor says

Not only is the variant believed to be far more transmissible than other strains, but an internal report presented to the CDC indicates that it may cause more severe disease and may be as easily transmitted by vaccinated people as by unvaccinated when it causes breakthrough infections.

The document — a slideshow first obtained by The Washington Post — appears to provide some data backing CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s controversial decision to change the agency’s guidance on mask use.

It says the Delta variant is about as transmissible as chickenpox, with each infected person, on average, infecting eight or nine others. The original lineage was about as transmissible as the common cold, with each infected person passing the virus to about two other people on average.

Some states are seeing the consequences of the virus’ spread unfold.

CDC's new masking guidance prompted by science that emerged in just the last several days, Walensky says

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced he was reinstating the public health emergency because of the rise in Covid cases.

“Anytime you are having staffing shortages in hospital(s). Whenever, today I believe, it’s four Covid patients that are waiting in ambulances to be able to find a hospital to go to. That constitutes an emergency and a public health crisis” Hutchinson said.

In Central Florida, Advent Health said it had about 1,000 Covid-19 patients as of Thursday, surpassing the January peak of around 900, according to a press release.

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice said the state’s Covid-19 task force will begin assessing the state’s PPE and hospital and nursing home preparedness.

Justice said the state will be working with Pfizer to conduct a “battlefield assessment” about the efficacy of the vaccine’s antibodies on fighting the Delta variant.

“The enemy is coming, and the enemy is this Delta variant,” Justice said.

Experts may have answers for if the US will need booster by fall

Amid the surge, the conversation has turned to whether boosters will be needed to enhance the vaccine protection — but many experts say the time for that is still far off.

“Booster shots will come, better guidance on who needs serology tests, when you check antibodies, which ones you check, those will all come,” Dr. Joseph Kanter, state health officer of the Louisiana Department of Health said during a call of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

“I don’t think it changes anything of what we need to be doing right now, which primarily is increase the base of the generally vaccinated population.”

Staff at a Florida hospital say they are hearing panic, fear and regret from unvaccinated Covid-19 patients

Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO president and director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed. “To be candid with you, right now, I’m really focused on getting folks first doses, rather than third doses,” Shah said.

Any decision on a booster dose depends on more data, a prominent member of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee Dr. Paul Offit told CNN on Thursday.

It is possible the US could know by the end of summer or early fall, Murthy said. “We have been tracking more than 20 cohorts across the nation, looking at for evidence of when immunity may wane and when breakthrough infections may increase,” he said.

If the time does come that boosters are needed, Americans will be able to get them in “a fast and efficient manner,” White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday.

CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Hannah Sarisohn, Maggie Fox and John Bonifield, Shawn Nottingham, Deidre McPhillips, Rosa Flores, Kay Jones and Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.

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Biden opens up new front in Covid-19 vaccination war as concerns over variant deepen

Tapping into that vein of frustration in his speech, Biden encouraged state and local officials to dangle a new carrot, in the form of $100 payments, to the newly vaccinated, but mostly emphasized the large stick he wields as the head of government — a departure from the softer touch he’s favored during most of his presidency. Biden acknowledged that the inducement might rankle Americans who sought out the vaccines without monetary reward, but his argument in its favor drove at something more elemental — a belief, undermined by decades of Republican arguments to the contrary, that government has both the capability and obligation to advance the public good.

“If incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,” Biden said. “We all benefit if we can get more people vaccinated.”

Biden also praised private businesses and institutions, like the National Football League, that are imposing strict new measures and, in some cases, mandates that their employees get vaccinated, or face being effectively locked out of their jobs or made to look for new ones.

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients spoke in stark terms about what vaccine holdouts working in government faced, describing “a difficult system of regular testing, masking, social distancing” and a ban on travel for work.

“We believe that people will do the right thing,” Zients said. “Protect themselves, protect their loved ones, protect their community, and get vaccinated.”

But the Biden administration’s shift and a recent tightening of masking protocols on Capitol Hill are already being met with stiff resistance from the usual suspects — a signal that many Republicans’ desire to politicize even the anodyne efforts to beat back the virus will provoke a cartoonish backlash.

GOP leaders at the federal and state level have most recently lashed out at public health experts’ calls for a return to more robust mitigation tactics, like wearing masks in potentially dangerous settings. In Washington, House Republicans on Thursday staged a protest against the attending physician’s reinstatement of a mask mandate in the lower chamber by walking over to the Senate side of the US Capitol, where facial coverings are not required. Later on, a member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus railed against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, describing her as “authoritarian.”

“Her tyranny, quite frankly, knows no bounds,” huffed Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, who then took aim at the new rules Biden was poised to roll out. “This will filter out and that will basically obfuscate and abrogate our rights as Americans. We’re going to fight this. We’ll fight it as the Freedom Caucus, and we will fight this as Americans.”

A shift in momentum?

After a bumper few months that took the country to the brink of Biden’s goal of having 70% of American adults receiving at least one shot by July 4, the vaccine effort has in the President’s estimation hit “a brick wall,” according to people familiar with his thinking. The pace has picked up over the last few days, as reports of overwhelmed hospitals and skyrocketing case rates dominated the news, and warnings about the Delta variant’s transmissibility may have moved hesitant Americans to action.

But anxieties about the relative vaccination standstill are likely amplified by the details contained in an internal report presented to the CDC — and first revealed late Thursday night by the Washington Post and later confirmed by CNN — that suggested the variant is far more transmissible than older lineages, may cause more severe disease, and that when it causes breakthrough infections, may be as easily transmitted as when it infects unvaccinated people.

The document appears to provide some data backing CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s controversial decision on Tuesday to change the agency’s guidance on mask use.

“I think people need to understand that we’re not crying wolf here. This is serious,” Walensky told CNN Thursday night, confirming that the slideshow was presented to her at a noon briefing earlier in the day. “The one thing I will say is I’ve been heartened in the past couple of days to see more people taking action in response to the fact that it’s bad — more organizations, businesses, states, localities taking the action that’s needed to get us out of this.”

Biden has stopped short of imposing even more stringent vaccine requirements, and Zients told Blitzer Thursday that a nationwide vaccine requirement is “not an authority that we’re exploring at all,” noting that the “Justice Department has said that it is legal for employers to require vaccinations.”

Shortly after Biden spoke, the Department of Defense announced that all military and civilian personnel would be asked to attest to their vaccination status or face new requirements “to wear a mask, physically distance, comply with a regular testing requirement and be subject to official travel restrictions.”

The department, which already has a list of required vaccinations for military personnel at home and overseas, stopped short of adding the Covid shots to the roster, but is considering it.

For the time being, the White House seems content to see whether its hardened position spurs a spike in vaccinations, while also hoping that it provides more space for the private sector to adopt tough new requirements.

“I think you’re going to find the patience of businesses, the patience of a lot of other people running thin,” Biden said, “because the fact is, if you had high vaccination rates, we wouldn’t be in this spot right now.”

A growing number of high-profile tech companies, health care providers and retail chains have already begun to insist their employees get vaccinated. Google, Facebook, Netflix, ride-share giants Uber and Lyft, along with Saks Fifth Avenue and others either conditioning employment on vaccination or coming right up to the line — in some cases, like with bankers Morgan Stanley, banning unvaccinated employees from setting foot in its headquarters.

The NFL recently jarred the sports world with the announcement that teams unable to play games because of Covid outbreaks caused by unvaccinated players or staff faced the potential of being made to forfeit games and game checks, a move that spurred a backlash from some players, but also — at least anecdotally — led some to relent and get inoculated.

Republicans’ mixed messages

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has consistently embraced the vaccine, is the narrator of a new, 60-second radio ad running in his state of Kentucky that, calling back on his own experience with polio, urges constituents to get vaccinated.

“Back then, it took decades for us to develop a vaccine,” McConnell says in the spot, describing the creation and distribution of the three available Covid-19 shots as “nothing short of a modern medical miracle.”

Biden on Thursday praised McConnell, noted that some Fox News hosts have begun to encourage viewers to get the shots, and shouted out another Republican, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, whose state has one of the lowest vaccination rates, for her more forceful tone. Last week, Ivey said the unvaccinated were “choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”

“Folks are supposed to have common sense,” she told reporters in Birmingham. “But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

But plenty of high-profile Republicans — even those encouraging vaccines — have mocked the recent public health guidance.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an acolyte of former President Donald Trump and potential 2024 presidential contender, has been among the most ardent underminers of public health officials’ guidance and recommendations.

Speaking at a gathering in Utah this week, he scorned the CDC’s new guidance encouraging Americans in Covid hotspots to mask up when indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

“Did you not get the CDC’s memo? I don’t see you guys complying,” he joked to a laughing, mostly unmasked crowd.

DeSantis, who peddles merchandise mocking Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on his campaign website, has made demonizing the leading public health official a staple of his budding stump speech.

“Floridians are free to choose, and all Americans should be free to choose, how they govern their affairs, how they take care of themselves and our families,” DeSantis said in Salt Lake City. “They should not be consigned to live, regardless of which state in the union, consigned to live in a Faucian dystopia.”

A day later, back in the realm of maddening reality, Biden sought to steel Americans for still more difficult days ahead.

“I know this is hard to hear. I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s exhausting to think we’re still in this fight. I know we hoped this would be a simple, straightforward line without problems or new challenges,” Biden said, “but that isn’t real life.”

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Mike Lindell: Fox says MyPillow CEO has decided to ‘pause’ his pillow ads amid election crusade

Here’s the context for the Thursday evening announcement: Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, has had beef with Fox for months. He brought it up with The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum when she interviewed him for a profile titled “The MyPillow Guy Really Could Destroy Democracy.”

Applebaum said Lindell “told me that if it weren’t for attacks by ‘the left’ — by which he means Politico, the Daily Beast, and, presumably, me — his message would never get out, because Fox News ignores him.”

In addition to selling pillows, Lindell also moonlights as a talking head at far-right outlets. He has been consumed by an illogical attempt to prove that his pal Donald Trump won the 2020 election that he actually lost.

Lindell hasn’t been interviewed on Fox in a while, but he has been visible all over the channel due to his ads. The ads have been practically unmissable.

But maybe not anymore.

On Thursday Lindell told the Wall Street Journal that he is pulling his pillow ads from Fox. Why? Because, he said, Fox won’t run his promo for a live streamed event in August that seeks to prove Trump won.

According to Applebaum, Lindell believes the Supreme Court will “decide ‘9–0’ in favor of reinstating Donald Trump to the presidency sometime in August, or possibly September.”

A fantastical idea like that wouldn’t normally get any airtime. But Lindell has sway through his day job of selling pillows. He has paid Fox News, for instance, tens of millions of dollars to run his ads.

So if Lindell really withholds his ad money -— and I say “if” because every word he says should be treated skeptically — then it might pinch Fox’s bottom line.

MyPillow specifically supports Tucker Carlson’s show when other advertisers are skittish to be associated with him. And the firm is one of Fox’s biggest sponsors overall: Lindell told the Journal that he has spent about $19 million on Fox ad time so far this year.

Lindell also buys lots of spots on other right-wing outlets such as Newsmax. But I have to wonder if he needs Fox more than Fox needs him, since he relies on direct response ads to sell sheets and pillows, and Fox is such a dominant force among Republicans. The truth is, he’s a household name in large part thanks to his omnipresent ads on Fox.

That’s what the network pointed out in a statement obtained by CNN Business Thursday night: “It’s unfortunate Mr. Lindell has chosen to pause his commercial time on Fox News given the level of success he’s experienced in building his brand through advertising on the number one cable news network.”

In other words — won’t he come right back to Fox when his pillows and towels stop selling?

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Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over ‘Black Widow’ Disney+ release

Actress Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday that alleges Disney breached her contract by releasing the highly anticipated superhero film “Black Widow” on its streaming service, Disney+.
The film was released simultaneously on the service and in theaters, which the suit claims broke an agreement between the star and the company. The suit alleges that Johansson agreed that her salary for the film would be based, in large part, on the film’s box office haul.

“To maximize these receipts, and thereby protect her financial interests, Ms. Johansson extracted a promise from Marvel that the release of the picture would be a ‘theatrical release,'” the suit claimed. “As Ms. Johansson, Disney, Marvel, and most everyone else in Hollywood knows, a ‘theatrical release’ is a release that is exclusive to movie theatres. Disney was well aware of this promise, but nonetheless directed Marvel to violate its pledge and instead release the picture on the Disney+ streaming service the very same day it was released in movie theatres.”

Disney (DIS) responded on Thursday saying that “there is no merit whatsoever to this filing” and that the suit is “especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20 million she has received to date,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the news.

The suit comes at a pivotal moment for Hollywood, as the pandemic has accelerated several trends at once. Streaming has become the focal point of Hollywood while movie theaters and the box office struggle to return to normalcy following a pandemic that ravaged its business.

Disney made big waves when it announced in March that “Black Widow” would be released on Disney+ for an extra charge and in theaters simultaneously. The film had been delayed multiple times because of the pandemic. It was originally set to be released in May of 2020.

While other studios have done a same-day streaming and theatrical releases, the “Black Widow” news stood out because Marvel is the biggest blockbuster brand in all of Hollywood, bringing in nearly $23 billion at the global box office since 2008.

Its July 9 release was an immediate success for Disney, in theaters and streaming, bringing in $80 million in its North America opening in theaters and $60 million globally on Disney+. The film’s momentum has slowed down since and now stands at roughly $318 million worldwide, according to Comscore (SCOR). That’s not a huge take for a Marvel film.
Other issues have arisen as studios shifted their major blockbusters to streaming as the pandemic continues. Case in point: Warner Bros. reportedly paid star Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins each more than $10 million as the studio released “Wonder Woman 1984” on streaming service HBO Max as well as theaters in December. (WarnerMedia owns Warner Bros. and CNN.)

“It’s no secret that Disney is releasing films like Black Widow directly onto Disney+ to increase subscribers and thereby boost the company’s stock price — and that it’s hiding behind Covid-19 as a pretext to do so,” John Berlinski, attorney for Johansson, told CNN Business. “But ignoring the contracts of the artists responsible for the success of its films in furtherance of this short-sighted strategy violates their rights and we look forward to proving as much in court.”

He added that this will “surely not be the last case where Hollywood talent stands up to Disney and makes it clear that, whatever the company may pretend, it has a legal obligation to honor its contracts.”